United States: Turkeys, And Christmas Trees, And Menorahs…Oy Vey

Last Updated: November 5 2015
Article by Robert A. Epstein

Ah, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah. What many people generally consider to be the most important holidays of the year are upon us. The time of year for being thankful, enjoying good food, football on Thanksgiving or basketball on Christmas, and celebrating with family another year gone by. After almost eight years, this blog contains so many hundreds of posts that they frequently blur together for this writer, but one post written two years ago by Lauren Beaver about being thankful for what you have stands out if you want some inspiration this morning.

Thus, while one can only hope that the holidays bring minimal conflict and nothing but happiness for your family, oftentimes, especially for divorced or divorcing couples, conflict is front and center. Interestingly, I have seen increasing conflict between parents as to even the Halloween holiday, but such issues generally pale in comparison to what transpires at the end of the calendar year. I have written about holiday parenting time issues before, and, with Thanksgiving mere weeks away I thought it would be a good time for a brief refresher course so that you can address any issues now – before it is too late.

1. Who has the kids and when? – Many parenting time agreements provide details down to the very minute of when the kids are with mom and when they are with dad, who is picking them up and taking them to the other parent's house, and more. Day before Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Day, Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the first night of Hanukkah, second night, third night, winter break...the possibilities and machinations are seemingly endless.

Many agreements, however, are far more general, perhaps agreed upon at a time with you thought you would have no issue in working out these issues with your former spouse on an annual basis. Who gets to put Bobby to bed on Christmas Eve? Who gets to open up gifts with lil' Tammy on Christmas morning? Who is lighting the menorah with Benny? Now is the time to firm up the details, because any conflict may leave you with no choice but to bring the issue to a family court judge.

2. What holidays will the children be celebrating? – Perhaps one parent celebrates Christmas and the other celebrates Hanukkah. Now what? While the law generally provides that the primary residential parent can have the final say in deciding what religion the children are raised in, there is, for the most part, no issue with the child being exposed to and celebrating both holidays. This, however, may not sit well with both parents. If the issue of religion and religious holidays are not addressed in your agreement or court order, try to work it out to avoid a holy war. Otherwise, you may end up having a judge decide the religious issue for you, which is not a place where you want to be.

3. Who is buying gifts for the kids? Who is buying that Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas ham? This type of issue typically arises when the holidays fall during a divorce proceeding, but oftentimes fall afterwards as well. Perhaps the monied spouse refuses to give money to the dependent spouse for such items, and prefers to lavish his or her own gifts upon the children as a way to buy the kids' affections. I once had a case where the dependent spouse was not receiving her ordered support and, as a result, actually had to go before the court and ask for money to buy a Christmas turkey and gifts for the children. Suffice it to say, the judge was horrified at such a situation. Do not let it happen to you.

4. Who is saying what to the kids about whom? Again, this is supposed to be a time of year for celebrating, being thankful, enjoying family, and looking forward to a new year. Do not let your kids become the epicenter of your conflict with your spouse or former spouse. Do your best to avoid disparaging the other parent to the kids. Do not let anyone else talk badly about the other parent, including grandma or grandpa who may no longer have that loving feeling for their former son or daughter in-law. Stop yourself from getting into an argument with the other parent in front of the kids. Keep in mind that the kids will remember these holidays for years, if not decades to come.

These are just a few of the issues that may arise at this time of year and some tips to avoid or address them. Now is the time – and not the day before Thanksgiving when family court judges are often inundated with emergency applications because mommy refuses to bring Johnny to daddy's house, or on Christmas Eve when daddy refuses to allow Sammy talk to mommy – to address these issues through amicable agreement or litigation.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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